Proposal to quash dissent on University of Virginia’s governing board is abandoned

A proposal meant to silence dissenters on the governing board of Virginia’s flagship public university was officially scuttled Wednesday, days after state lawmakers raised an outcry.

The initial version of a “statement of expectations” for the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors had stated that board members should not speak out publicly on board decisions — “whether past, present or imminent” — without permission from the board’s leader. The proposal drew sharp criticism after it surfaced publicly last week.

A revised version, now posted on the board’s Web site, omits that provision.

Instead, the proposal says: “If Visitors wish to address a board matter outside of the boardroom, they should make clear that they are speaking in their capacity as an individual board member and not on behalf of the Board or the University.”

How and when board members can speak up has become a sensitive topic at the elite university in Charlottesville since the attempted ouster of U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.

In early June 2012, Sullivan resigned under pressure from board leaders, but the board voted later that month to reinstate her after an uprising among students, faculty members and alumni.

The board, which is appointed by the governor, has also debated the strategic direction of the university and U-Va.’s commitment to aid students in financial need, among other sensitive issues.

Lawmakers have said robust debate is appropriate for a board that oversees a university founded by Thomas Jefferson.

The draft proposal for board expectations was developed with help from a private consultant, Dick Chait, whose contract is capped at $200,000.

U-Va. spokesman McGregor McCance said a board committee on governance and engagement will continue to study and revise the proposal. The full board plans to discuss it in September. McCance said the board’s leader, Rector George Martin, was unavailable Wednesday for comment.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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